Mount Rushmore Michigan: Running Backs
Previous Mount Rushmore Pieces: QB
Michigan's running back tradition is as strong as, perhaps, any in college football. U-M has produced four first-team All-Americans and 11 first-team All-Big Ten tailbacks over the last 50 years.
Thus deciding who belongs on the Mt. Rushmore: Running Backs was no easy task. John Borton, Chris Balas and Michael Spath, who have 45 years combined experience covering Michigan football, put their heads together to discuss.
It was a terribly difficult debate, but we are confident in the four ball carriers chosen.
Ron Johnson - 1966-68
In any era, Johnson would have been a stud. The 6-1, 196-pounder had speed, had the ability to shake a defender, and was powerful, spearheading the U-M rushing attack in 1967-68. He totaled a then-Michigan record with 2,440 yards in his career and would have had more if freshmen were allowed to play.
Johnson's 1,391-yard record campaign of 1968 stood for eight seasons at Michigan before was eclipsed, while only four Wolverines bettered it over the next 20 years.
Twice named team MVP, he was a first-team All-American in 1968 and the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player while setting a then conference-record with 1,021 yards rushing. In fact, at the time of his departure, he owned eight Big Ten rushing records, and while most of them have fallen, his 347-yard effort against Wisconsin in 1968 still stands as the top single-game performance in Michigan history.
Rob Lytle - 1973-76
They don't make them like Lytle anymore. Arguably Bo Schembechler's greatest back, Lytle played tailback, fullback and was a terrific blocker, crushing the souls of defenders that anticipated an easy path to the quarterback or ball carrier.
The Fremont, Ohio, native was, first and foremost, though, an incredible tailback, setting the Michigan single-season (1,469 yards in 1976) and career (3,317 yards) rushing records. His career tally still ranks eighth today in the U-M annals. Only one Wolverine in school history to have had at least 500 rushing attempts averaged better than Lytle's 5.96 yards per carry during his career (Tyrone Wheatley, 6.07).
Lytle was a consensus first-team All-American in 1976 and the Big Ten's MVP, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting (at the time, the best placing since Bob Chappuis was second in 1947). But what plenty remember about Lytle was that he delivered a league title in his senior year by ending a two-game losing streak to Ohio State. In vanquishing the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 22-0, Lytle rushed for 165 yards and a score, averaging 5.7 yards per tote.
Tyrone Wheatley - 1991-94
Wheatley broke the mold on what a running back was supposed to look like. Standing in at 6-1, 225 pounds, he had track-speed wheels, winning the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1994 Big Ten Track and Field Championships, a skill he brought to the football field in ranking second all time at Michigan (behind Denard Robinson) with 10 rushes of 40 yards or more.
Wheatley usurped Ricky Powers as the starting back in his sophomore season, recording the first of three 1,000-yard campaigns - only he, Jamie Morris and Mike Hart can lay claim to such - in rushing for 1,357 yards and a mind-blowing U-M (still-standing) single-season record of 7.3 yards per carry.
Wheatley followed up with back-to-back 1,100-yard efforts in earning All-Big Ten first team honors as a sophomore, junior and senior. He is one of only six U-M offensive players in the last 50 years to pull first-team all-league accolades three times.
Wheatley's 4,178 career rushing yards ranks fifth (second at the time) and his 47 rushing touchdowns are second (first at the time).
Mike Hart - 2004-07
Perhaps our biggest discussion point centered on Hart because he lacked the overall explosiveness and physical talent of the three aforementioned, but how do you exclude Michigan's all-time leading rusher? The answer is, you can't.
Hart is the only player in U-M history to reach 5,000 yards (5,040) while he is the lone Wolverine with two individual top-10 seasons (1,562 yards in 2006, sixth; and 1,455 yards in 2004, ninth) and is the lone tailback with three in the top 15 (1,361 yards in 2007, 15th).
Hart was unbelievably consistent, posting 28 games of 100 yards or more (six more than second-place Anthony Thomas) with 12 efforts of 150+ and five of 200+ (both records also).
While only 5-9, 202 pounds, Hart was one of the toughest Wolverines pound-for-pound of all time. He never went down on first contact and usually earned an extra two or three yards on every play. He never beat Ohio State but he gave it his best shot in 2006, rushing for 142 yards and three scores. He also averaged 168.5 yards (at least 100 yards per game) in four wins against Michigan State.
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Butch Woolfolk - 1978-81
Sixth all time in career rushing with 3,861 yards, Woolfolk held the mark for six seasons before Morris broke it. He led U-M in rushing three times, including a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, and was a 1981 first-team All-American.
Morris became the first tailback in Michigan history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in three seasons, going for 1,030 as a sophomore, 1,086 as a junior and a then-school record 1,703 as a junior. The latter mark stood for eight years while his career tally of 4,393 yards stood for 13 seasons.
Tshimanga Biakabutuka - 1993-95
Biakabutuka owns Michigan's single-season record with 1,818 yards in 1995 and he's second for a single game with 313 yards against Ohio State that same year. Overall, he ranks 11th in rushing with 2,810 yards and while that one season was incredible, it was just one season. Still, he put the Wolverines on his back to lift them to a 31-23 upset over No. 2 OSU.
Anthony Thomas - 1997-2000
A-Train probably has a legitimate beef. He stands second all time with 4,472 yards rushing (first until Hart passed him in 2007) while his 55 rushing scores still ranks first by a wide margin (eight). He, arguably, had the finest season of any back, rushing or 1,733 yards (second all time) and 18 scores (second) in 2000 without the assistance of a 313-yard game, going for 100 yards or more in nine contests.
The 2003 Doak Walker Award winner - the lone Wolverine in school history to be named the nation's top tailback -- Perry rushed for 1,674 yards and 18 scores as a senior, earning All-American first-team honors (U-M's first runner since Woolfolk to do so) and finished his career seventh all time with 3,696 yards and fifth with 39 rushing TDs.
Who was our biggest snub? You can vote now on The Fort!.
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